Key steps to reduce the risk to your investment and tenants’ safety
Dealing with the threat of a fire is a given, no matter where you live. Thankfully we have some great regulations in Australia to minimise the risk to property owners and tenants alike. Apartment living can be especially unnerving if you’re worried about fire safety, however, due to the history of fires in high-rise buildings, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has set out guidelines for each state when writing their own fire safety measures.
Australia-wide buildings fire regulations
The ABCB is a part of Australia’s National Construction Code (NCC) and contains provisions for external walls to be non-combustible for most multi-story building. This is to avoid the spread of fire within and between buildings.
The article, Fire safety in High Rise Buildings, discusses how new Australian buildings provide extremely high levels of safety when built in accordance with the NCC. This includes provisions that limit the spread of fire, alert occupants to the detection of smoke, facilitate evacuation and enable fire brigade operations.
Specific requirements vary with building size, however, NCC provisions that achieve these outcomes for a typical high-rise apartment building include:
- Smoke detection and occupant warning systems.
- Fire-isolation of exits, such as exit stairs.
- More than one exit for each storey, to allow alternative means of escape should one exit become unusable.
- Exclusion of smoke from exit stairs.
- Fire sprinklers.
- Fire-resisting construction to limit the spread of fire between apartments and between storeys.
- Non-combustible external walls.
- Resistance to collapse because of fire.
- Features to assist fire brigade operations, such as fire hydrants.
It is also important to highlight the principal fire safety properties addressed in the different test standards in Australia:
- Heat release rate
- Surface spread of flame
- Fire resistance
- Smoke production
Environmental Planning Assessment Regulation 2000 reforms
While high-rise buildings are at less risk of a bush fire than many other residences across Australia, they are still at risk of electrical and other in-home related fires. With autumn on its way and winter right around the corner, residents will be using heaters and other electrical items to warm their dwellings, which increases the risk of fires caused by associated negligence or misfortune.
Over the last few years fire regulations in New South Wales have changed. The NSW Government introduced reforms to the Environmental Planning Assessment Regulation 2000 which enhanced the fire safety standards for new and existing buildings.
The Property Tribune explains that a specialist group of representatives from 16 organisations including fire practitioners, certifiers, strata and building managers, engineers, educators, councils, and regulators worked on the reforms over a nine-month period.
The specialist working group comprehensively reviewed the regulatory framework, industry practice and role of regulatory authorities including councils, Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW Fair Trading. The group then devised and proposed multiple major reforms that will be implemented in 2022 including:
- Establishing a new template building manual that provides the owners’ corporation and fire practitioners with key information on what is installed, how it should perform and essential maintenance requirements.
- Tightening the regulation of fire safety work, starting with establishing a new category of certifiers to verify the performance of installed systems.
- Mandating improved quality and standards for fire safety documentation which is relied on for certification and inspection processes.
- Enhancing the way that the main regulatory authorities work together, with strategies to deliver more consistent and effective approaches to compliance across NSW.
What fire safety measures should I take?
According to NSW Fire and Rescue Service, having a simple safety checklist for safe living in high-rise buildings will help to protect you alongside the inbuilt apartment fire safety designs, which are designed to protect you from fires that may occur within another apartment of the building.
- Familiarise yourself with your building’s fire escape plan. If you cannot find one speak to your owner’s corporation.
- Know where the fire exits, fire stairs and firefighting equipment are located. Only use firefighting equipment if you feel confident and safe in doing so.
- Make an escape plan with your family and other occupants. Include a back-up option in case your initial plan of escape is blocked. Also include an arranged safe meeting place outside the building.
- Inform all visitors of the escape plan.
- Test smoke alarms in your apartment monthly and clean regularly with a duster or vacuum cleaner -Smoke alarms provide a vital early warning and can allow extra time to escape if there is a fire in your apartment.
Active and passive fire safety measures
Active fire safety measures can be automatic such as fire sprinklers, smoke detectors, and alarm systems or manual such as fire hose reels and fire extinguishers. Passive fire safety measures include fire doors, fire walls, and other fire rated and non-combustible construction. These are constructed to contain or restrict the spread of the fire and allow time for escape.
Keep in mind that whilst the building may fulfill the requirements of active and passive fire safety measures, they will be of little use if there is poor building management and bad housekeeping. As the building owner or tenant, it is your responsibility to ensure good housekeeping and effective building management is met:
- Keep fire stairs and escape routes clear – escape routes should be free of any obstruction, strictly no storage anywhere on common escape stairs and in corridors.
- Keep fire cabinets storage-free – the storage of materials in fire cabinets or cupboards can delay access for occupants or firefighters who may require the equipment in an emergency.
- Do not interfere with fire safety components – this could affect their operation in an emergency.
- Reduce fire hazards – it is important to reduce the chance of a fire and prevent it from spreading into escape routes.
- Minimise combustible materials in and around the building – excessive amounts of combustible materials, including household rubbish, should not be stored in or around the building including (but not limited to) balconies and inside individual units.
- Fixe fire safety equipment defects – fix or promptly report faulty fire safety issues to the responsible person for immediate rectification; this may include:
- faulty escape lighting (light flickering or not working)
- faulty smoke alarms (flashing light and/or beeping sound)
- damaged signage
- fire doors not self-closing or latching properly
- penetrations through fire rated walls or floors not sealed or protected appropriately.
Make sure you’re fire safe
Keeping your tenants and your investments safe is extremely important and the team at Adair Fire Audits & Certification are here to help. If you have fire safety concerns or want to find out how to improve your building’s fires safety and preparedness, our integrity is your peace of mind. Call Adair Fire Audits & Certification today on (02) 8004 5142 to book your audit or talk about what fire safety measures your building needs. Alternatively click here to send us an online message or email us at [email protected] and we will get back to at the earliest possible time.